From the Fresh Air Archives: The Vocabulary of Fresh Air

By Niki LaGrone

The Fresh Air archive, like most archives, tries as much as possible to use a controlled vocabulary of authority terms. Circumstances, however, sometimes dictate that we create new terms. One of the more interesting aspects of archiving over 40 years of Fresh Air episodes is the development of local vocabulary terms specific to the program.

under the Market-Frankford Line in Kensington, Philadelphia


While Terry Gross, who has hosted Fresh Air since 1975, conducts most interviews, others have also contributed interviews to the program, including Liane Hansen, Radio Times’ Marty Moss-Coane, and, of course, frequent guest host Dave Davies. This led to the creation of the term “Interview Contributor.” The earliest interview by Dave Davies in the archives is a March 1983 conversation with Michael DiBerandinis, a community activist and organizer of the Kensington Joint Action Council in Philadelphia. Davies’ acute political instincts and knack for asking the right question can be heard in this clip, in which he gets DiBerandinis to open up about neighborhood politics in the city:

Best-selling author Rita Mae Brown


We have also collaborated with Fresh Air producers to create a list of frequently appearing segment topics. Terms such as “memoir,” “race, identity, and culture” and “in-studio performances” were added over time in response to the show’s content.

These local vocabularies illustrate the breadth and scope of subjects covered in the show’s interviews, reviews, and commentaries. The local term “LGBT issues and history,” for example, applies to an interview with novelist Rita Mae Brown about her 1983 novel, Sudden Death, set in the world of women’s professional tennis. Brown discusses the pressures placed on lesbian athletes by advertisers and promoters who fear that parents won’t “buy a pair of shoes” endorsed by a lesbian, afraid that “it’ll rub off on the little darlings’ feet.”

As you’ll hear in this clip, Brown uses the term “dyke,” a word which in earlier years was commonly used as a derogatory term for lesbians. In this context Brown reclaims the word, and uses it to forcefully make her point about the fear of homosexuality which exist in society. It is an example of how Fresh Air does not shy from using vivid language in the discussion of serious issues.

Robert Kaplow


The “in-studio performances” term is also surprisingly diverse–it was used for a 1978 live concert with Sun Ra and the Spirit of Jazz Cosmos Arkestra, as well as this segment aired on September 8, 1989 in which Terry Gross takes part in musical comedy sketch with Robert Kaplow and the Punsters parodying “back-to-school” traditions:

 |  Comments Off